IN THE HOLY
Our Ascent to Jerusalem
OUR landing at Joppa had no spice of adventure about it; for though our ship cast anchor about a mile from the shore, the sea was comparatively calm, and we had none of the agony of conscious danger, which makes the next moment's sense of safety doubly sweet. We had time, therefore, as the jabbering Arab boatmen rowed us to the landing-place, to realize the main features of the picture that lay before us. That narrow sandy beach stretching far southward from Joppa is the shore-line of the country of the Philistines, who were alternately the persecutors and the tempters of the people of Israel - thorns in their eyes, and snares to their feet. The waves of the sea at certain places still dash up to the ruins of their crumbling castles, and to the long desolate temples of their idol-gods.
Those sandy downs, again, stretching northward to the Bay
of Acre, which remind us of the dunes of Holland or of our own Lincolnshire,
and which are the haunt of many a grateful gazelle, conceal behind them what
was once the exuberantly fertile valley of Sharon; and those mountains which
bound our view inland are the hill country of Judah, rich alike in
reminiscences of peace and of war, of bannered hosts and of quiet "loopholes of
retreat." And that Joppa itself, to which every stroke of the oar is bringing
us nearer, built upon a conical mountain, and rising in tiers of streets to its
summit - which is crowned with a half-ruined Turkish citadel - looks imposing
and even picturesque as beheld from the sea.
But what an entrance to the landing-place! A strip of water, apparently not more than forty feet wide, with jagged rocks on either side, as if eager for the work of destruction, is your only passage. What must be the danger in a rough sea, when one unskilful stroke of the oarsman might impale the boat on either rock, and send everything to the bottom. Hundreds have perished in this way within a few yards of land, with no newspaper to record the catastrophe. This treacherous port, with its usually foaming surf, has been well described as the "true sea-monster which has devoured many an Andromeda, for whose deliverance no gallant Perseus was at hand." Even in calm weather, like to-day's, there was a swell here; and the mischievous boatmen kept us tossing for a time between the points of the two ugly rocks, hoping that our fears or our impatience to land might perhaps better their bargain. But we looked stolid and were inexorable, and the disappointed rascals allowed us at length to plant foot in Palestine.
Experiences like these, as well as care for our luggage, which many in that swarthy, bare-legged multitude had an unpleasant fondness for handling and lifting, as well as the miniature Babel in the midst of which we found ourselves, were by no means favourable to sentiment, and indeed made us for the time very prosaic and matter-of-fact. It was only when, passing through an ancient archway, and ascending by blind alleys and narrow steep lanes incredibly filthy, we were welcomed into the house of the English consul, that we became gratefully awake to the fact that the desire and the dream ofa lifetime had begun to be realized. As we looked forth from the consul's house, which stood high on the crest of the mountain, the Biblical associations connected with Joppa passed rapidly before us. Without going so far back as Pliny, who would make this place antedate the Deluge, we are safe in regarding it as one of the oldest towns in the world. When the land was first divided among the tribes by Joshua, it was granted to Dan under the name of Japho - " Why did Dan remain in ships?" - and all down through nearly three millenniums, it has been the sea-port of Jerusalem and the chief western sea-port of Palestine. Cedars and pines which had been felled on the slopes of Lebanon for the building of both temples were borne on floats to this place, and carried up on waggons to Jerusalem. It was here that the rebellious Jonah found the ship about to sail for Tarshish, in which he took flight from his unwelcome mission; only to be pursued, however, by the storm as God's angry messenger, and cast on shore, as God's prisoner, by the sea-monster. Here in the earliest Christian times Dorcas plied her nimble needle, and made coats and garments for its widows and orphans "whilst she was with them," for "the lantern of men's good deeds cast the best light when carried before them, and done in their lifetime." And here also, when her useful life was cut short too soon, she was restored by miracle to her weeping beneficiaries. And down somewhere on that shore, where the white surf is now playing with the sand, Peter once dwelt in the house of Simon the tanner, and was favoured with that teaching vision which told him that, under the new dispensation, the Gentile was to stand on an equal platform of privilege with the Jew.
And historical associations mingle with and succeed these sacred recollections. For Joppa has seen the prowess of Maccabaean patriots, has stood the brunt of Roman assaults, has shuddered and bled under Saracen domination, has risen to fresh life under the more humane rule of the Crusaders, and, after sinking almost out of notice for ages, has in later times startled the world by those wholesale massacres, of which it became the scene under the first Napoleon, which have left stains upon his character which no chemist's or sophist's art will ever wash out. A traveller, writing two centuries ago, records that "of this great city at this day only two old towers do survive." But its soap manufactories, its cultivation of silk in the neighbouring gardens and in mulberry orchards that stretch northward for some miles, the abundance and unrivalled excellence of its fruits, and, above all, the fact that it is the gate of entrance for pilgrims from the West to Jerusalem, have once more gradually raised it from its ruins, so that it is now supposed to number a population of six thousand. Of these, by far the greater number are Mohammedans; more than a thousand are Christians of the various Eastern creeds; there are a few Jews, with an unusual sprinkling of those adventurous vagabonds who abound in all sea-ports.
We were told that at the northern gate of Joppa, which is its only entrance landward, there might still be seen, amid the noise of braying donkeys and wrangling Arabs, the cadi or native judge, surrounded by white-bearded elderly men, hearing causes and dispensing a kind of rough summary justice, such as was seen in the gate of Bethlehem in the days of the sorrowful Naomi and the manly Boaz. It was one of those sights which we should have specially enjoyed, but we arrived too late in the day for witnessing it.
By the help of the consul, however, we found a trusty guide to the traditional house of Simon the tanner; and we lost no time in visiting it, as we had arranged to proceed in the afternoon on our way to Jerusalem so far as Ramleh. There is a fountain near the house, which is affirmed to have been useful in Simon's craft; and we saw a solitary fig-tree beginning to send forth its buds along the gable-wall. We ascended by a well-worn stair through a succession of storeys, and emerging from the half-darkness by a kind of open trap-door upon the flat roof, looked forth upon the deep blue Mediterranean, spreading, as if illimitably, to the west. And was this the actual house of Simon the tanner? Of course not. But it may just as probably be standing on the site of the hospitable craftsman's house as any other. Suppose, as some have suggested, that his tan-work must have been outside the town, still his residence may have been in it. And to some such roof as this in Joppa, Peter must often have ascended to pray; from some such point as this he must have looked out on that very sea; on some such spot as this he must have beheld that vision which so enlarged his mind, and was to him as a newly-written page in the volume of revelation.
And there was a divine fitness in the choice of such a scene for such a communication. His back was turned upon Judea; he was looking in the direction of "the isles of the Gentiles ;" and doubtless his thoughts far outstripped his natural sight when the heavenly message, wrapped in symbol, told him that those Gentiles were now to be "fellow-heirs and partakers of the same promise in Christ by the gospel" The Dean of Westminster has wrought out this idea with much ingenuity and beauty. But he has stopped short in its application half-way. There was a double communication from the skies. Simultaneously with that to Peter at Joppa was that to Cornelius the centurion at Canarea, the one Roman sea-port of Palestine, which also looked out towards the far west. And there was a marked felicity in the arrangement that the key which was to open wide the door of the Christian Church to the Gentile world should be put into the apostle's hands at the one place, and that the door should actually be opened by him at the other.
Few things, indeed, more strike the mind of a traveller in the Holy Land than the way in which the events recorded in Scripture, and the scenery in the midst of which they are said to have occurred, fit into each other. The locality and all the minuter outward incidents perfectly tally. The fact ever recurring in new forms, at once startles and delights you, and you receive a deepened conviction that the record must be true. We had noted this impression more than once in our journal; and since our return home, we have been gratified in finding it so strongly expressed in the pages of the German Ritter. Speaking of the Sinai Peninsula, he says, "We have also discovered a remarkable correlation between the events which are said to have transpired there, and the scene where they transpired. And it is just as strikingly the case," he adds, "in Palestine; and the geography of the country, as we find it to-day, is the strongest testimony of the truth of that history which purports to emanate thence. The natural scenery of Palestine speaks with but one voice in favour of the Bible; every word of the sacred narrative receives its best interpretation by being studied in connection with the place where it was recorded. No one can trace, without joy and wonder, the verification which geography pays to the history of the Holy Land. So strong is the argument drawn thence, that the most subtle dialectician is baffled by it, and is entrapped in the net which his own sophistry has spun." We shall see more of this as we proceed.
It was some hours yet before sunset when, having engaged a temporary dragoman with horses and mules, we left Joppa, intending to spend the night in one of the convents of Ramleh, about nine miles distant. We slowly steered our way among multitudes who were keeping holiday outside the walls, and had extemporized bazaars erected for the sale of nuts and fruits, nondescript confections and cooling drinks; and we were soon down on the level path. Our way then led through the midst of the famous gardens behind Joppa, which were fenced in on either side by lofty hedges of the prickly pear. The fig-tree was sending forth its tender buds. The orange, the citron, the lemon, the apricot, the pomegranate, the almond, were all in their vernal glory. The air was soft and balmy with more than "Sabean odours." Much of the wealth of Joppa is obtained from these gardens, and much of their produce is exported to Europe, and reserved for royal banquets The light sandy soil is favourable to the growth of the trees and to the size and delicacy of the fruits, and the trees are kept under perfect irrigation by the constant working of hundreds of Persian waterwheels, which bring up water in abundance from what many believe to be a vast subterranean river which percolates silently beneath into the neighbouring sea. The conditions of culture must be exceptionally favourable, for when trees from these gardens are transplanted to other places and subjected to the same treatment, the fruit speedily degenerates.
As we were riding along at a moderate pace, a young man, gaudily dressed after the native fashion, rode furiously past on a fiery steed, whom we were to meet with again in other circumstances before our day's journey was ended. We have spoken of a road, and there are fragments of the way up from Joppa to Jerusalem which have some claim to be so described. The Pasha has made his first attempt at road-making on this route. But, like all his other attempts in the direction of civilization, it has been spasmodic, fitful, reluctant, and has stopped short whenever his exchequer threatened to become a little shallow. Vou have, therefore, road-making in all its degrees on this first journey - some places finished, many more half-finished, and therefore intolerably rough and impassable, and others little more than marked off and scarcely touched as yet by the spade or the mattock. We understood that an omnibus of rude construction, and without springs, had once or twice attempted the journey on this abortive road to and from Jerusalem, and that it had done its work with difficulty in the course of a week. The passengers must surely have been bribed to travel by it, One day on it might have served as a severe penance for any refractory monk in the Ramleh convent, where we were hoping to spend the night. But this is the only road within the boundaries of the Holy Land, as that wonderful omnibus is its only wheeled conveyance. After to-morrow we must be content to ride on paths that owe everything to natural causes: upon hard, uneven rocks; among boulder stones and scraggy bushes; upon mountain ledges with deep ravines far beneath, on which a false step would be destruction; in the dry beds of mountain torrents; and sometimes even in gravelly channels where the water is yet flowing. Alpine passes are child's play to some of those giddy rides which await us on the way down to Jericho and in the region of the Dead Sea. Nervous people of either sex had better satisfy themselves with donkey-rides in Egypt, or with the luxuries of a Nile boat up to the First Cataracts.
But how delightful to us was that first afternoon in the Holy Land! The air was wonderfully exhilarating. Then everything was new, and seemed to have a hue of sacredness upon it. Keeping generally aloof from the Pasha's unfinished path, we rode briskly along on the green-sward, and by the banks of sparkling streamlets making their sweet music, with wild flowers of every form and colour rising above the knees of our horses, even to our stirrups. No wonder at this luxuriant herbage; for we were skirting along the valley of Sharon - the name in Scripture for abundance and beauty - and it was fertile and joyous yet, even after centuries of neglected culture and consequent decay. Looking around, we could see brairded fields in some places, ploughmen iurning up the soil in others, and here and there villages glittering on commanding eminences, with the ever-present palm waving in the afternoon breeze above the loftiest houses. It was impossible, with our recollections of Egypt so fresh in our memories, not to be reminded of the contrast between the two countries traced so many thousand years before, in a few bold touches, and yet with so much discriminating accuracy, by the pen of Moses, when Canaan was still only the land of promise to the Israelites. "The land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs. But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven. A land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year."
But our enjoyment was suddenly interrupted by seeing the horse which had passed us less than an hour before, feeding riderless on the green-sward, and its rider lying on the ground, at no great distance, motionless, and apparently dead. His eyes were closed, blood was oozing from his mouth, and it was only after the repeated application of stimulants that we could discover any signs of remaining life. The poor lad had been dreadfully stunned. But what struck us most was, that although several natives passed quite near us while we were doing our best to restore him, none of them could be induced to stand and help us. There was a glance of curiosity from a safe distance, and then a "passing by on the other side." It was like shadows from the great parable. It was impossible to guess whether they were afraid of being complicated in some way with the accident, or whether all humanity had been driven out of them. We were sadly at a loss what to do. We could not leave the man alone, perhaps to perish from want of care; and yet, if we delayed much longer, the chances were that we should not only be benighted, but should find the convent full At length we saw two men approaching with a donkey, and drew their attention by signs to the helpless youth, whose head was meanwhile held gently up by our faithful dragoman, Giuseppe. We used every measure short of physical force to make them stop, and the sight of money which we offered them to "take charges with him," had a wonderful effect in charming their somewhat dubious humanity into action. The half-dead man was placed by us on the back of the donkey, held on by one of the natives on either side, and borne away to the nearest village. The episode did not encourage us to attempt "feats of noble horsemanship."
We had an experience this afternoon which was more than once repeated in subsequent parts of our travels, - the mortification of leaving unvisited districts of Biblical interest which were out of the common route of visitors. From elevated points in the finely undulating region through which our path now lay, it was possible to look into the border of the Philistines; but every step was meanwhile bearing us further away from it. We should have liked to wander for a few days in a territory whose older memories were so interwoven with the exploits of Samson and with the history of the ark of God, and to have visited the seats of those five satrapies, and those homes of giants and men of renown, whose energy and military prowess scarcely succumbed before any power but that of David and his mightier son. We should have liked especially to visit the busy market of modern Gaza, with the sturdy independence of a border city; and to have passed to Ashkelon, once the proudest city of the lords of the Philistines, and now with its ruined walls inclosing ruined houses and tangled gardens, its lofty theatre a desolation, its columns of gray granite that had given a look of grandeur to its formerly busy harbour lying prostrate and lashed by the invading sea, and all for many a past age abandoned by every human being as if it were an accursed thing ;- and in the two places to have seen the prophecy of Zechariah accomplished to the letter in both its parts, that "the king should perish from Gaza, and Ashkelon should not be inhabited." And, beyond this, we should have liked to verify by personal observation the remarkable statement made to us by an eminent traveller in respect to the average height of the modern inhabitants of Philistia. It is understood that the average tallness of a native of Syria or Palestine is five feet eight inches. Can it be true that the height of the modern Philistine is considerably above six feet? This is a fact fertile in matter for speculation, and curious in reference to the inhabitants of a land which boasted of its giant races so early as the entrance of the Israelites into Canaan.
While we are endeavouring to digest this mortification, our notice is turned to a village towards the north-east, on which the slanting rays of the descending sun are shining brightly, and to which a road had forked off some little time before. It is the Lydda of Scripture, and the Diospolis of Jerome and Eusebius as well as later writers. It was great and important in the times of the Crusaders. It is now a very poor village, embosomed in the midst of rich gardens, whose undying fruitfulness no neglect can entirely repress. It is an object of Christian interest from the fact that it was here that Peter cured the palsied Eneas of his long malady of eight years; and that to this place the sorrowing messengers from Joppa brought the intelligence to the same apostle of the death of Dorcas, which bore him as with winged feet across the intervening miles to her death;chamber, and ended in her resurrection to life.
It is interesting to contemplate together those two early Christian disciples, who were almost simultaneously the subject of the apostle's miraculous power. Does not the one represent the service of suffering, and the other the service of action? We are apt to prefer the working disciple before the patient one enduring in silence. But the golden balances of Heaven are not in our hands. Who can tell by which of the two God was most glorified and Christ best served?
To Englishmen this little Sharon village has, besides, another kind of interest, as being the birth-place, and containing in the corner of a half-ruined mosque the tomb, of St. George, the tutelar saint of England, whose famous legend, as trampling on the dragon, has, after an interval of some reigns, been restored on certain of our English coins. Old Fuller lets out his wit, and perhaps also some of his wisdom, on this popular legend, when he adverts to the coincidence between it and the story of Perseus and Andromeda, of which the neighbouring Joppa is the scene: "All I will add is (I hope without offence) this ensuing parallel. In Joppa the valour of Perseus is celebrated for freeing Andromeda, daughter of King Cepheus, tied with chains to the rocks, from the fury of a sea-monster to which she was exposed. In Lydda the puissance of St. George is remembered for delivering the nameless and only daughter of a certain King of Libya from a fiery dragon, to whow she was tendered by lot to be devoured. It is pity," he continues slyly, "these two stories should be parted asunder, which will both in full latitude be believed together. Hard to say whether nearer, the two places or two reports. He that considers the resemblance of their complexions will conclude Fancy the father, Credulity the mother, of both; though we need not presently reject all the story of St. George for fictitious for some improbable circumstances appendant thereto." Reland and others, in their eagerness to separate the germ of fact from the drapery which poetry has woven round it, have gone much further back, as is well known, in their speculations, and have thrown out the idea that the story about Andromeda and Perseus originated from some confused account of Jonah and the whale which had reached the Greeks through sailors of Tarshish. If any one will look into the pages of Faber, in his "Horae Mosaicae," he will find that imagination has played quite as wildly with some of the traditions of the Deluge.
We were benighted before we reached the convent gate at Ramleh. Our efforts at surgery with the unhorsed rider had delayed us much longer than we had counted on; but this inconvenience was not to be measured against the satisfaction of having helped to save the life of a fellow-man, whom we had found wounded and half dead. The courtyard of the convent was crowded with pilgrims, many of them of a very unpilgrimlike appearance, and representing more than half the nations of Europe; and they scanned with staring curiosity the last arrived. The mules and horses stamping in the court made it difficult for us even to move. It was a new thing for us to be served at dinner by barefooted and tonsured monks, girded with ropes, and as speechless as if they had been under a vow of silence.
But those travellers are not to be envied who arrive at these houses with a keen appetite, especially when it is late in the evening, and the locusts that have preceded them have dined. We had a truly lean and lenten fare, which did not make us in love with ecclesiastical cookery or monkish larders. There was a pleasure, however, in thinking that the dronish, monotonous life of these poor men was broken in upon during some weeks of the year by a stream of restless spirits from the outside world. It is not the first time that we have seen a monk in some remote nook of a hospice like this, devouring a newspaper with more than the gusto with which we had vainly tried on that evening to devour our meagre, ill-cooked dinner.
We wonder whether those monks keep a journal; for, if so, they could have recorded that, a few weeks before, in the court of that same convent, a certain rich and amiable Scottish nobleman, the latest and most splendid pervert to Romanism, might have been seen walking up and down for hours, stripped to the waist and barefooted, evidently performing some severe penance. We acknowledge to have felt intense mortification at this description, received from a friend and eye-witness: for this penance implied a confessor and a soul-director behind it all; and it seemed studiously imposed for the purpose of breaking the spirit of a man of rank and education into unquestioning obedience, not to Christ, but to the Church, and of crushing out of him the last embers of that holy fire of true Protestantism which makes us "call no man Master upon earth."
We contrived, before turning into our stifling dormitory, to walk out into the solitude and darkness and look up into the midnight sky. How glorious seemed those many mansions of our great Father's house! It was a purifying, soothing, soul- enlarging sight. Those southern latitudes favour the star-gazer, and, as it were, increase and brighten the revelation made by the visible heavens. No wonder that such a vision kindled at once the soul of poetry and devotion in the soul of the boy- poet watching his father's flocks by night upon the hill-sides at Bethlehem. We had stood in the gardens around Geneva, and looked up into its evening sky mirroring itself in the noble lake beneath. We had leaned on one of the bridges over the Arno at Florence, and wondered at the silvery glory of the Italian firmament,
"Bespangled with those isles of light
So wildly, spiritually bright."
But that sky of Palestine has a diviner glory still. Not only do the orbs seem far more numerous, and new constellations beam down upon you, but the whole impression is different. We have seen it noticed by some travellers that the stars appear to be more separated from the sky, and not to be so much like lights fixed upon a solid pavement as like golden lamps suspended from the blue canopy, or floating in ether, under the guidance of a hand thatis invisible, but omnipotent. This is true. And therefore we could well understand how mightily such a vision must have helped the faith of Abraham, and given an imperishable distinctness and reality to the promise when Jehovah "brought him forth abroad" from his tent at midnight, and said, "Look now towards heaven, and tell the stars if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be." The old habits of the student came back strongly upon us, as we lay awake on our bed that night, and mused on the many analogies between all true believers and those lights of heaven. And we glided gradually into sleep over the unsolved question: "Is this Ramleh indeed the Arimathea of Joseph, the honourable counsellor?" We shall see.
Go To Chapter Four
Home | Links | Literature | Biography